Tag Archives: WordPress

Blog implementation: do you risk the fear of success?

Fear of SuccessThe BPI Institute website have an article covering the problems of successfully implementing a business process management  (BPM) solution. Don’t know what a BPM is? Don’t worry – I only have the faintest idea.

What was striking were the reasons for failure the piece lists:

  1. lack of understanding what BPM really is
  2. fear of failure
  3. fear of criticism/losing face
  4. unwillingness to change
  5. fear of success
  6. fear of reality
  7. belief that expensive tools are necessary to get started

It struck me that these apply to the implementation of many technologies, including setting up a corporate blog. For instance, the idea that no one will read your content (fear of failure) is a roadblock to many a blog being setup.

The fear of success really bemused me at first, until I dug further. Jealousy is a very human trait. In the workplace we can express this around projects which we didn’t kick-start ourselves. If a corporate blog solution is initiated by marketing, when you turn to the sales team for help on an in-depth post explaining customer pain points, you may meet a wall of resistance.

As a successful blog often involves the participation of many constituents across the organization, when setting up the blog it can be prudent to let all parties think they come up with the idea. For instance, don’t show up with a fully realized idea with all details filled in. Leave some room for other teams to offer their feedback, so the blog you come up with is as much theirs as it is yours.

The final point on this list is also pertinent: the belief that expensive tools are necessary to start blogging. It is true that to get to get a blog fully integrated into your core website can involve hosting, programming, design and possibly software expense (although open source solutions like WordPress suffice in most situations), you can just as easily forgo all of these and setup a pilot blog on Blogger, WordPress, Posterous or any of the other online blogging services available. These are perfect if you just want to dip your toe in and see if you have what it takes to maintain a blog long-term. If the pilot works, most platforms have tools that will allow you to pull the content onto your own site or at least link across to the new location.

So if any of these points resonate with you, go back to the BPM Institute and you may well find some guidance from an unlikely source.

What exactly are WordPress theme frameworks?

If you are a long-time WordPress developer who understands all the ins and outs of theme development then this post isn’t for you.

OK, now we’ve got that out of the way, for those of you left, let’s try and decipher where the real value lies in theme frameworks. Help comes in the shape of a WordPress Meetup earlier this week in San Francisco. We had the chance to hear a number of case studies from internet marketers, developers and blog owners – each with a different perspective on the utility of theme frameworks.

Alejo Grigera is a product expert at Google but also runs Mr Bluesummers: a blog covering 3D modeling. He talks us through Arjuna, which he terms a ‘robust theme’. What does he mean by that? Let’s step back and look at what a standard theme is.

Standard themes

The basics of WordPress themes means you can take the default WordPress blog theme that comes out of the box:

and turn it into something like this:

Themes give you the power to enforce your own look and feel around your sweet musings.

Robust themes

But what if you want to take this a step further if you have different types of posts (eg. video vs. articles) or different sidebar elements? Well, certain themes out there have a number of options allowing you tweak certain elements. Arjuna is one of these. It allowed Alejo to turn the standard Arjuna theme:

into this:

Notice the changed header (including translation flags) and different elements running down the right hand side. All possible due to options within Arjuna. He also has the flexibility to change the layout based on the type of post (eg. 2 column versus 3 column) – all from within the WordPress admin console.

Theme Frameworks

If you’re still following, let’s start delving into theme frameworks proper. Jeremy Reither from R3R consulting showed us what he has achieved with Thematic on his side project My Family Law. Here customization goes a step further with different sections of the sites having completely different layouts.

Such as the library page:

And the article view:

Again, there’s a way you can code this with PHP but theme frameworks make this level of personalization possible from within the admin console. This is important for My Family Law as there are multiple authors – more skilled in the ways of law rather than development. Each author can have their own blog and some flexibility over how their posts appear, yet still adhere to the overarching ‘framework’.

Thematic also supports a number of widgets from Google Ads to Twitter, and by combining with a plugin like Widget Logic, you can fine tune which sidebar elements you want to display on which pages. Powerful stuff.

Child Themes

A big advantage of theme frameworks prior to WordPress 3.0 was the ability to add child themes: that is related themes that share common elements but can be substantially different. Since WordPress 3.0 came out, this functionality is included in the core, however depending on your implementation, you might still want to use the frameworks to handle children.

What exactly is a child theme? Chancey Mathews from GigaOm summed this up perfectly (he uses the Carrington theme framework). Look at these sites…

GigaOm:

The Apple Blog:

Earth2Tech:

All have the same structure and share common elements (including that signature thick black underline), but there are obvious differences. However they all share the same core display code. This makes it easier to maintain and easier to control updates across all the sites. I can say this from experience having spent hours adding extra navigation to a series of five blogs which were essentially identical save for minimal elements like headers and sidebar links. A framework could have saved me hours.

Anatomy of a framework

Jeremy Reither showed this image explaining where the framework code sits in the WordPress template.

(click on the image for more detail)

The framework effectively wraps its code around the existing WordPress code, extending the functionality. The architecture of each framework does differ so it is worth investigating which one makes sense for you.

I’ve just started work on a redesign of this site using the Thematic framework and so far have been surprised with the ease with which you can built out a fully-functioning site. One word of caution: most frameworks rely heavily on the power and flexibility of CSS (especially in terms of child theme implementation) so brush up on your CSS skills if you are looking to modify an existing theme.

More information on theme frameworks

Theme frameworks covered in this article:

Other popular frameworks:

Further reading:

  • WordPress codex
  • Lorelle on WordPress

Conclusion

So if you are looking to create a stylized blog/CMS with WordPress, look further into the world of frameworks. If you have have experiences to share around theme framework implementation, please comment!

BuddyPress: ‘Facebook in a box’

Andy Peatling from BuddyPress kicks off Wordcamp 2009 for me. So, what is BuddyPress? In another presentation, Matt Mullenweg, the WordPress founder describes BuddyPress as ‘Facebook in a box’ ideally suited to the creation of niche social networks. Features include in-depth profile pages, a life-stream, messaging, groups, albums, forums, blogs (obviously, given that it’s from the WordPress team).

Andy points out that BuddyPress grew as a collection of plugins for WordPress MU (the multi-author edition of WordPress) that have been rolled into one large one. The advantage here is that you can pick and choose which elements to configure and run, but more on that later.

Why use BuddyPress rather than Ning, Facebook or other available social networks?

A major benefit of BuddyPress is that you get the power and stability of WordPress. It’s also heavily extensible and plays nicely with most of the massive collection of WordPress plugins out there. WordPress is the run-away leader when it comes to open source blog applications and so BuddyPress can leverage the sizable community that exists around WordPress. In some instances you can use existing WordPress plugins right out of the box, eg. LDAP functionality to handle registrations. Other plugins and widgets may require some modification.

Another key feature is BYOTOS. Umm, exactly what is BYOTOS? Bring Your Own Terms Of Service. For instance, Facebook scared many users when it changed its terms of service in February to include the clause whereby they can do anything they want with your content. As you download and install BuddyPress on your own servers, it is really up to you to decide your own terms of service for your community.

Setting up BuddyPress

The first step is to setup WordPress MU, which commonly runs in the LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) environment. You should ideally use sub-folders for each profile rather than sub-domains.

Next step is to download BuddyPress.

Once installed, each component has it’s own folder so disabling a component is as easy as deleting the relevant folder. The advantage here is that you only configure what you need. Setting up the forum piece which uses BBPress is currently the trickiest part, although this is due to get easier.

Skinning BuddyPress

You use WordPress themes for blog/content pages. If you are used to running WordPress blogs, you are probably familiar with these themes. Buddypress has its own themes for social pages. You can see an example of this in practice on GigaOm Pro (a community version of Om Malik’s popular technology blog):

buddypress_gigaohm
(click thumbnail to see full size)

You also have the option to enable blog networks, which each have their own distinct theme. This is a key feature that really isn’t really available on most other social network solutions out there.

Note that each component has it’s own theme folder so you only skin what you need to skin (eg. if you just need profiles, just skin those). Knowing which theme file you need to edit for a given page is easy as URLs map to template files:

buddypress_themeurl

If you have used WordPress, you are probably familiar with the concept of the ‘loop': the code block that handles the display of each individual post on a page. Buddypress themes use the same ‘loop’ concept, but for more than just blog posts. Output any BuddyPress content by creating custom loops.

BuddyPress ships with a skeleton (vanilla) theme that eases customization.

Extending BuddyPress

If you need to build a plugin then check out the ‘skeleton component’ that comes as standard with  BuddyPress. This can help you understand the hooks and actions from which the plugin can access BuddyPress functionality. Again, if you have built plugins for WordPress, the concept is the same and should make sense.

There are a number of ready-built plugins you will find on BuddyPress Dev. For instance there’s a plugin to allow users to pull in photos from a Flickr stream.

BuddyPress: the future looks bright

Given that BuddyPress was only launched around Wordcamp this time last year, it’s remarkable to see the rich feature set available today. The team continues to make constant improvement and recently asked the community to vote on features they would most like to see in upcoming releases.

If BuddyPress can capitalize on the considerable community and large popularity of WordPress, this really could become a major player in the social network solution space.

Follow Andy Peatling on Twitter.

WordPress for iPhone now available

For all you geeks-on-the-go, the folk at WordPress have introduced WordPress for iPhone: an open source app that lets you synch your blog and write posts directly from your iPhone:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://v.wordpress.com/GyIzZkju" width="400" height="224" wmode="transparent" /]

This should be compatible with all versions of WordPress beyond 2.5.1.

Top corporate blogging tools

Matt Dawson of Category 4 goes into detail about your platform options for corporate blogging. These include WordPress (which I’d heartily recommend), ExpressionEngine and custom solutions. What about Moveable Type? I’m not a fan, but shouldn’t it be included as another major player in this market?

He talks briefly about CMS options. In this space, I’d say I’m intrigued by Drupal, although haven’t had time to test drive.

Read more about corporate blogging platforms

WordPress meeting: Wordcamp San Francisco 2008

Wordcamps are events organised by the WordPress gang to pull together developers working on the popular blogging platform. The latest event took place recently in San Francisco, pulling together some of the top brass working on WordPress. The affable inventor of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg led the proceedings.

WordPress sessions of interest:

Andrew Mager made this wonderful blow-by-blow account of Wordcamp San Francisco 2008.

BuddyPress: Social networks on WordPress

Unfortunately I didn’t get to attend this session, but thankfully, through the beauty of blogging, there are numerous other accounts online.

BuddyPress grew out of a series of plug-ins that added social functionality to WordPress MU (the multi-user edition). It is being touted as Facebook-in-a-box, ie. you can setup your own personal Facebook for your community.

Credit: Andrew Mager

More screenshots from Andy Peatling’s blog.

Andy graciously added his presentation to Slideshare: